Wednesday, February 27, 2008


“Mickey Mouse was to me, a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end.”
Walt Disney.

Viewed from a Western perspective, it is difficult to sympathise with the Serbs over their loss of Kosovo-Metohija (Косово и Метохиja), as evidenced by the unilateral declaration of that province’s independence by its Albanian “parliament” recently. This is because Serbs are invariably linked to and blamed for the internecine strife accompanying the breakup of Yugoslavia - a construct of western powers - especially the incarceration and systematic slaughter of Bosnian Muslims. The removal of Kosovo-Metohija from such a rogue state, is seen as a just punishment to the perpetrators of heinous crimes, as well as a just reward to an ‘afflicted’ people in their quest for freedom.
However, in actual fact, the declaration of independence for the Albanians of the province signifies the apogee of bankruptcy for Western concepts of democracy and international law. This is because at the same time that it has tacitly allied itself to the “War on Terror,” removing the terrorist regimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it is now supporting a regime that has asserted its right to rule over the region through acts of terrorism.
As far back as 1999, NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days, ostensibly in order to support the ethnic Albanian majority of Kosovo-Metohija. In doing so, it destroyed much of the infrastructure of Serbia and brought its economy to a standstill. Its use of depleted uranium in the weapons it employed for this purpose have caused untold health problems in hundreds of infants. Yet who in fact was NATO supporting? Was it in truth supporting the Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (Kosovo Liberation Army) a group reputed to have had ties to Osama Bin Laden, and a group recognized by the United States’ own state department as a terrorist group. (That is until President Clinton found them a useful poster boy for a group of freedom fighters and had them removed from the terrorist list in 1999)? Or was the bombing merely an expedient by ‘democratic’ countries to forcibly remove the tyrant Milošević? Most probably we shall never know.
What we do now about the regime that currently purports to have ‘liberated’ Kosovo-Metohija and wishes to rule it is that though Serbian rule over Kosovo-Metohija was harsh and did repress expressions of Albanian nationalism, it was the KLA that began to attack the government in the region, along with civilians that it regarded as ‘collaborators.’ It should be noted that Albanian aggression in the region has historical precedents. During the fascist occupation of Kosovo by Albanians, until August 1941 alone, over 10,000 Serbs were killed and between 80,000 and 100,000 were expelled, while roughly the same number of Albanians from Albania were brought to settle in the region. Mustafa Kruja, quisling prime minister of Kosovo during that time, issued a chilling declaration that has had repercussions decades later:
"We should endeavor to ensure that the Serb population of Kosovo be – the area be cleansed of them and all Serbs who had been living there for centuries should be termed colonialists and sent to concentration camps in Albania. The Serb settlers should be killed."
Though there is no justification for the oppression of innocent people, Serbian hysteria over Kosovo should be viewed in the context of their people’s tribulations and their attachment to what was historically, the heart of the medieval Serbian state.

Thus, that the track record of the terrorist KLA has been a sorry one, should not surprise us. They seem to have picked up where the fascist Albanians have left off. There have been widespread reports of war crimes committed by the KLA both during and after the Kosovo conflict. These have been directed against both Serbs, other ethnic minorities (principally Roma) and against ethnic Albanians accused of collaborating with the Serb authorities. According to a 2001 report by Human Rights Watch, “The KLA was responsible for serious abuses… including abductions and murders of Serbs and ethnic Albanians considered collaborators with the state.” It is also believed that the KLA has played a key role in the ethnic cleansing, kidnappings and murder of Serbs and other ethnic minorities after the end of the war. Human Rights Watch writes: “Elements of the KLA are also responsible for post-conflict attacks on Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanians, as well as ethnic Albanian political rivals... widespread and systematic burning and looting of homes belonging to Serbs, Roma, and other minorities and the destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries... combined with harassment and intimidation designed to force people from their homes and communities... elements of the KLA are clearly responsible for many of these crimes.” The KLA is also accused of intentionally provoking attacks by Yugoslav security forces against civilian targets by, for example, staging attacks from villages, knowing that the response would create bad publicity for the government forces in the international media: “The KLA… engaged in military tactics in 1998 and 1999 that put civilians at risk. KLA units sometimes staged an ambush or attacked police or army outposts from a village and then retreated, exposing villagers to revenge attacks. Large massacres sometimes ensued, helping publicize the KLA's cause and internationalize the conflict.”
Following the end of the war several of the leading figures in the KLA have been convicted of war crimes by the International Tribunal for the Foreme Yugoslavia, including crimes against humanity (torture, murder, kidnapping and rape). In 2005 the then ‘Prime Minister’ of Kosovo-Metohija and former KLA commander, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted together with two of his lieutenants on 37 counts of war crimes. According to the Tribunal, he was responsible for a plot to drive out Serbs and other ethnic minorities from Kosovo through a campaign of murder, rape and torture. Despite this, Ramush Haradinaj remains popular with many Kosovo Albanians.
Handing Kosovo-Metohija to the control of such organisations is tantamount to handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban. No guarantess have been provided for the safety and security of the extremely small (after ethnic cleansing) and frightened Serbian minority, nor for the protection of World Heritage Listed monuments such as the medieval churches of Gracanica. Instead, members of the ruling regime have been permitted to vandalise such irrepleceable monuments to civilization, as if to erase the history of the Serbian presence, from the region altogether. Today Serbs are less than 10% of the population. They live in ghetto like conditions, unable to leave their fortified neighborhoods without risking violence being inflicted upon them by their ‘liberated’ Albanian neighbours. They are prisoners in their own homes, and prisoners in their own country
The life and times of the Prime Minister of the so-called Democratic Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, also make one raise their eyebrows at the ferven western support displayed towards his regime. A founder of the People’s Movement of Kosovo, (Lëvizja Popullore e Kosovës (LPK), a Marxist-Leninist political party devoted to Albanian nationalism and the movement to unify all Albanian-populated areas into one state, in 1993, Thaçi was sent in and became a member of the inner circle of the KLA. Thaçi, also known by his nom de guerre "Gjarpëri" (the Snake) was responsible for securing financial means, training and armament of recruits, teaching them in Albania under the auspices of its Kosovar-sympathetic government, to be dispatched to Kosovo.
Thaçi also founded the infamous "Drenica-Group" an underground organization that is estimated to have controlled between 10% and 15% of all criminal activities in Kosovo (smuggling arms, stolen cars, oil, cigarettes and prostitution). The Group relied on its close connection to the Albanian, Czech and Skopjan mafia; one of the most important factors in these connections being Thaçi's sister's marriage to Sejdija Bajrush, one of the largest Albanian mafia leaders. One of the group's first military activities in Kosovo was the 25 May 1993 attack on the railroad crossing in Glogovac in central Kosovo, when a band comprised of Thaçi and various others, killed four Serbian policemen and severely wounded three. On 17 June 1996 Thaci and several other members of the KLA opened fire on a Serbian police car in Sipolje in northern Kosovo, on the Kosovar Mitrovica-Pec road. Later the same year another unit under Thaçi threw hand grenades into the Serbian military barracks in Vucitrn, in central Kosovo. Rightly, in July of 1997, the District Court of Priština sentenced Thaçi to 10 years of prison in absentia for criminal acts of terrorism.
Now this convicted terrorist, with the connivance of the west, is ruling over a province that it has detached from a country, through force and violence. Is this a manifestation of the new form of Western Democracy? How does it not differ from those marginal groups in the world that seek to impose sharia law upon states, by force?
Already the message of Kosovo’s declaration of ‘independence’ has been welcomed by other regimes that have broken away from their countries of origin through acts of violence and oppresion. Notably, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose civil war caused the death and extirpation of thousands of native Greeks, have also signified their intention to unilaterally declare independence. As Russian President Putin adroitly oberserves, there is much irony in intervening to create an independent Kosovo, while permitting the existence of an unrecognised illegal regim in the north of Cyprus. But then again, that regime was able to invade the island and establish itself with the use of NATO weapons as well and there is no chance that the West will intervene to redress this act of singular injustice, decades later. Sadly, owing to NATO irresponsibility, there shal lbe wars and rumours of wars for decades to come.
A proper solution to the issue of Kosovo would be not to encourage separatism or irredenitsm for it has an unprecedented domino effect. If Kosovo is to be independent today, why not Northern Epirus tomorrow? Indeed. why does not America, whose Congress has in the past voted for the autonomy of Northern Epurus, pick and choose which separatist regimes it will support? Instead a process of ethnic reconciliation and peace should be implemented, that guarantees the inclusion and security of all members of society, safe from nationalist hysteria.
Too many miscarriages of justice have been perpetrated by the leaders of the ‘Free World’ to have us belive in the myth of the moral superiority of western governments, or in their belief in any inherent responsibility to assist the afflicated or oppressed of this world any longer. If the illegal declaration of Kosovo’s indepedence harbours any lesson for the western world, it is this, gleanied from the cogitations of Mormon leader Bingham Young, that: “True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what is right.”


First published in NKEE on 25 February 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008


“True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive.” Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook.

Traditional Greek-Australian attitudes to the act of saying “sorry” can be encapsulated in the hybrid observation: «Όταν βγήκε το sorry, χάθηκε το φιλότιμο.» Essentially, unlike Miquel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote’s conviction that “The worst reconciliation is better then the best divorce,” in the ancient Greek tradition, the mere expression of feelings of remorse were seen as values if they were not accompanied by considerable acts of contrition and expiation. If you failed to acquire feelings of guilt and regret over your various misdemeanours, your remorse would be supernaturally imposed upon you by Olympian gods, custom built for the purpose. The Erinyes, or Furies, born from the blood of the Titan Uranus when his son Cronus castrated him to take revenge on the loss of his siblings, persecuted such crimes as disrespect, injustice, perjury or arrogance and-first and foremost- murder, especially the murder inside a family. Their lust of punishment knew no bounds, for they kept punishing a sinner even after his death, until he finally would show remorse.
Thus, Pausanias, in his ‘Description of Greece’ describes the tomb of Anteros (love avenged), occasioned as a supreme act of remorse for a cruel act. The Athenian Meles, spurning the love of Timagoras, a resident alien, bade him ascend to the highest point of the rock and cast himself down. When Meles saw that Timagoras was dead, he suffered such pangs of remorse that he threw himself from the same rock and so died. From that time onwards, the resident aliens worshipped avenging spirit of Timagoras as Anteros.
Oedipus of course determined that a proper act of remorse, upon learning that he had killed his father and slept with his mother was to put out his eyes. Jocasta, his mother, also fittingly displayed her remorse at the commission of such an unnatural act, by hanging herself. Even Hercules, the great demi-god considered himself bound by the anger of the Furies. When, after a Hera-induced fit of madness, he killed his wife and children, Heracles prepared to do away with himself, only to be directed by the Olympian gods that he should expiate his crime by performing the twelve tasks for king Eurystheus and selling the film rights for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, to Universal Television - punishment enough, one should think.
Apart from loss of life, proper expiation for the ancient Greek could even entail transubstantiation and loss of human characteristics. Cycnus, for example, was an Aetolian youth who demanded many difficult labours of his love Phyllius. When the boy died carrying out one of these, Cycnus was stricken with remorse, faded away and was transformed into a swan. Similarly, Clytie, daughter of the king of Babylon, and spurned lover of the god Helios, alerted her father to the fact that her sister, Leocothea, was having clandestine meetings with the god, wherein he conducted enquiries as to her father’s health. The king condemned Leocothea to be buried alive Helios arrived too late to restore her and so changed her into a shrub. In remorse, Clytie exposed herself to nature until she faded away, gazing all the time at Helios zooming through the Heavens. In time, she was transformed into a heliotrope.
By Roman times, acts of contrition accompanying remorse seem to have fallen by the wayside, until the emergence of the Catholic Church. Thus Aeneas, having seduced Dido, Queen of Carthage and sailed away in secret to found Rome, is recorded to have felt remorse as he watched his lover slay herself in grief upon her funeral pyre. However, being a Trojan and pre-Roman, he did absolutely nothing about it. Similarly, though his descendant Romulus was reputed to be remorseful at his fratricide of his brother Remus, no expiatory acts were performed.
Perhaps this then underlies western concepts of apology, concerned more with the form than the substance. Serial tax dodger and author of genius P G Wodehouse, once advised: “It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.” He can perhaps be forgiven his arrogance when it is considered that the proposed recipient of his own remorse was to be the American I.R.S.
For there are aggrieved members of every society that deserve an apology and more besides. Notably, the parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal people is a case in point. Throughout the years of the previous regime, an official apology to the victims of British-Australian manifestations of cultural superiority was ruled out. It was held that current generations were not responsible for what transpired a generation or two ago and as a result, non-victims were absolved of all guilt and even sympathy for the plight of those torn away from their families and ‘re-acculturated.’ In other countries, such an act would be considered a form of genocide - a term that cannot be employed in the case of British-Australians, as they are civilized and democratic. The temerity of a society that refuses to apologise for deep ontological disfunctions within it that cause it to kill, maim or attempt to transform sections of their population and instead attempts to cover them up through blank refusals to countenance the causes behind these is truly disquieting.
Furthermore, the issue of the stolen generation is not one that concerns merely British-Australians and Aboriginal victims. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou have shown in their book “From Foreigner to Citizen” Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897 - 2000” how Southern European migrants unwittingly served to legitimize the arbitrary seizure of Aboriginal land by the ruling British Australian class, through that class’s assertion of the right to be the sole arbiter of the Southern Europeans’ right to be present in a country that did not in fact belong to British-Australians. By our parents and grandparents accepting the ground rules set out for us by the authorities who let them in to the country, they by inference, acknowledged those authorities as the legitimate ‘owners’ of Australia, ignoring the rights of Aborigines to the title of original owners of the continent. We have thus played a significant role in reinforcing the concept of terra nullius and by extension, that of the non-humanity of Aboriginal people. A sorry, of remorse, regret but most of all, of compassion and understanding is thus well overdue, by ALL sections of Australian society, not only by those who have perpetrated crimes of violence against selected victims. For further than an admission of responsibility - something that white society struggles to come to terms with at all, as it explodes the myths of civilization it has woven about itself - an apology surely must be an expression of sympathy and resolve never to repeat past wrongs.
The Rudd Government, in contrast with the reactionary recalcitrance of the Howard government appears to understand that an apology from the Parliament is necessary if national reconciliation is to be brokered. As Paul Boese contended, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” However, as G K Chesterton noted, “A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wringed; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
The question them becomes whether we, as a society, are truly remorseful or whether the act of saying ‘sorry’ is merely a matter of political expediency to satisfy bleeding hearts and dispense with unpalatable perceptions of ourselves. The fact that the Rudd government has ruled out compensation for aggrieved victims of forced removal, despite the recommendations of former Keating attorney-general and head of the Stolen-Generation Commission Michael Lavarch, seems to suggest that Australian parliamentary conceptions of remorse differ to those of the ancient Greeks. One would have thought that, in the words of Filipino president Corazon Aquino, “reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last.” An expression of regret that is not followed up by any expiatory act thus appears to be half-hearted, regardless of how noble the sentiments expressed in an apology may sound.
For an apology of remorse to abate the mania of the Furies, it would have to first of all identify the cause of the transgression. In this case it is blatant racism. It was the conviction of British-Australian cultural and racial superiority that led to the belief that Aborigines are an inferior people. This in turn led to the belief that Aboriginal parents are not fit to bring up their children (as they would perpetuate a line of inferior people) and thus their offspring should be removed from them and brought up according to British-Australian cultural norms, in order for them to be considered ‘human’ and ‘acceptable.’ The fact that a number of notable Australian personalities who purport to be remorseful at the treatment of the Stolen Generation take pains to emphasise that Australian authorities and their personnel ‘believed that they were doing the right thing,’ displays if not a lack of remorse, then at least, a lack of full understanding of the full extent of the heinous crime that was committed against a defenceless, dispossessed people. There seems to be an unconscious attempt to minimize or justify a terrible act when in actual fact, what Australians should primarily be doing is appreciating its enormity.
Migrants have a role to play in educating British-Australians as to the physical and emotional extent of traumas associated with dispossession and violence. A great many migrants have found their way to this country as victims of war, genocide and persecution. Within the Greek community, there are still a considerable number of persons who form their own ‘stolen generation’ - those forcibly removed from their families by fanatical communists and sent to the ‘paradise’ of Soviet Bloc countries. Their experiences could parallel and shed light on similar experiences inflicted upon the Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, there seems to be a subconscious refusal to permit anything that befell migrants before their Australian experience, to inform Australian culture in general, except as to reinforce the simplistic stereotype that our countries of origin were the Egyptian captivity to Australia’s Promised Land. If this is so, then the plight of the captive Aborigines in the Promised Land assumes the mantle of a greater tragedy than has hitherto been conceived.
Policy considerations ruling out the payment of compensation to surviving Stolen Generation victims, could be paralleled to a hypothetical situation whereby compensation is denied to victims of say, sexual abuse. In that case, such a denial would be considered an unwillingness to truly express remorse at the victims’ plight. Why then does the Rudd government balk at providing victims of the Stolen Generation with the expiatory acts that will permit them to move on with their lives under the precepts of Isaac Friedmann that: “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge?” Is it because the payment of compensation will place upward pressure on interest rates and forever damage the Australian economy? or rather is it because a reaction is feared by a large cross-section of Australian society that, through misinformation and an absence of education has not been offered the opportunity to appreciate the crimes of violence that have underpinned the institution of British-Australian socio-political hegemony in this country? “All futurity seems teeming with endless destruction never to be repelled,” William Blake wrote. “Desperate remorse swallows the present in a quenchless rage.” For there is much to be remorseful about, including the post-modern condition of the particularized Homo Novus Orbis who cannot objectively feel remorseful about anything. For though as Seneca observed, “There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse,” for the rest there αρε pane et circenses, or Prozac.
Finally to the Stolen Generation, we, members or descendants of a dispossessed generation, descendants of a race that has been persecuted and subjected to genocide and discrimination in the past because of our race and religion, feel your pain keenly. We are truly sorry for what you have had to bear. We resolve never to become the willing accessories to the denial of your plight or the perpetration of further violence against you, by any party. And most of all, we love you.


First published in NKEE on 18 February 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

RUMI مولانا جلال الدین محمد رومی

“I came to you, friend, to be sacrificed for love, and when I saw you, my desires were magnified.”

Invariably the gentle reader will have heard of Zorba the Greek, possibly even Nick the Greek, quintessential Greek types. However, a chance encounter with Jelaleddin Muhammad Balkhi the Greek, is certain to cause the uninitiated to raise the eyebrow. Yet, to the entire Muslim and Persian world, Jelaleddin Muhammad Balkhi al Rumi, arguably one of the finest and most important Eastern poets, is known as “the Greek,” not only because he spent much of his life in Asia Minor, but also because his Sufi poetry is heavily infused with elements of a Hellenistic culture that seems to have survived into Byzantium. Such is the importance of Rumi’s poetry, that it has influenced Persian as well as Urdu, Begali and Turkish literature. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages in various formats, to the extent where BBC News has described him as the “most popular poet in America.”
Not bad for a boy who was born in the backwaters of Tajikistan in 1207. When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220, his father, a noted scholar with his whole family and a group of disciples set out westwards to the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, a kingdom comprising most of inland Asia Minor, newly conquered by the Turks but with a majority of Greek inhabitants. On the road to Rum, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar in the Iranian city of Nishapur. Attar immediately recognized Rumi's spiritual eminence. Seeing his father walking ahead of the son, he said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.” He gave the boy his Asrarama, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world, reflecting the Platonic ideas that informed and inspired much of Persian thought. it was to have a profound effect upon his future development.
Arriving in Iconion, now Konya, the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, Rumi became a teacher in a religious school, teaching the inordinately Byzantine curriculum of religion (albeit Islamic), philosophy and rhetoric. He also beame heavily inclined towards mysticism, a concept originally alien to early Islamic culture, through the influence of the mystical practices of Orthodox Christian monks, inhabiting the caves of Cappadocia. Their hesychastic practices of mediatation in order to see the uncreated energies of God are evident in Rumi’s devotional poetry, which concerned itself with the concept of Tawhd, (unity) and union with his beloved (the primal root) from which/whom he has been cut and fallen aloof, and his longing and desire for reunity.
Indeed, as the Sufi orders of Konya developed under his tutelage, they deviated in many ways from the early Islamic practice. Sufi doctrine grew in several stages, enriched by contacts with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and even Buddhism. They were also heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, especially the works of Aristotle, which reached them through Islamic philosophers like Avicenna and Averroes When Rumi and his movement were established in Konya, the city was still heavily under the influence of Christianity, and the Greek language was common among communities around the city. Thus Rumi and his Sufi followers could not avoid being influenced by the Greek culture and philosophy that were promoted by the Christians. The English orientalist, F.W. Haslucke, describes these situations and states that in a mosque in Konya, that was formerly the St.Amphilochius church, there was a tomb that was believed to be that of Plato and that Rumi’s disciples in the city revered it and even considered Plato to be a prophet. There are also indications that Rumi encouraged harmony and friendship between the Sufis and Christians. Much later when the Ottoman Sultans ordered the persecution and massacre of Greeks and Armenians in the region, Rumi’s Sufi successors sheltered and saved the lives of many of them, ensuring that a Christian community survived, isolated in the depths of Asia Minor until 1927, when they were deported..
Heavily infusing himself in the study of the ancient Greek classics, Rumi came to believe passionately in the use of music, poetry and dancing as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine, and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of Whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form. He founded the order of the Mevlevi, the “whirling" dervishes, and created the “Sema” their “turning”, sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, Sema represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to Perfection, much in the manner prescribed centuries earlier by Orthodox Saint John Climacus. In this journey the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the longed for “Perfection.” The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey with greater maturity, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination against beliefs, races, classes and nations. The internationalsit nature of Rumi’s conception of such love is stiking ad modern in outlook: "Love’s nationality is separate from all other religions/ The lover’s religion and nationality is the Beloved./ The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes/ Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.”
It was his meeting with the dervish Shams e Tabrizi on 15 November 1244 that changed Rumi’s life completely. Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could “endure my company”. A voice came, “What will you give in return?” “My head!” Shams answered. “The one you seek is Jelaleddin of Konya,” the voice advised. Rumi and Shams shared a passionate intellectual and personal relationship, akin to that expounded in Plato’s Symposium. On the night of 5 December 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door. He went out, never to be seen again. It is believed that he was murdered with the connivance of Rumi's son, Alaudin, who was jealous of his influence over his father. Shams indeed then gave his head for the privilege of mystical friendship.
Rumi's love and his bereavement for the death of Shams found their expression in an outpouring of music, dance and lyric poems, the ‘Divan e Shams e Tabrizi.’ He himself went out searching for Shams and journeyed again to Damascus. There, he realized:
"Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!"

For more than ten years, Rumi composed poetry in order to cope with his sense of loss. One day, Rumi and his scribe and favorite student Hussam-e Chelebwere wandering through the Meram vineyards outside of Konya when Hussam suggested: “If you were to write a book like the “Mantiq ut-Tayr” of Attar it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it.”
Rumi smiled and took out a piece of paper on which were written the opening eighteen lines of his poetic work entitled Masnavi, beginning with:
"Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
How it sings of separation..."

Hussam implored Rumi to write more. Rumi spent the next twelve years of his life in Asia Minor dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Masnavi to Hussam. In December 1273, Rumi fell ill. He predicted his own death, composing the well-known ghazal, which begins with the verse:
“How doest thou know what sort of king I have within me as companion?
Do not cast thy glance upon my golden face, for I have iron legs.”
He died on 17 December 1273 in Konya and was laid to rest beside his father. A splendid shrine, the Yesil Turbe or “Green Tomb” was erected over his tomb, with an epitaph that reads:
"When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”
Rumi’s influence on Middle Eastern poetry and thought was all pervasive. Written primarily in Persian, Rumi's poetry is displayed on the walls of many cities across the Persian-speaking world, sung in Persian music, and read in school books. Literally, Persian-speakers live with Rumi's poetry. What is not well known and what makes him ever more so fascinating is that through him, we find preserved rare examples of the mediaeval dialect of Cappadocian Greek, a dialect that developed in isolation from the rest of the Greek world, being cut off from it by the Islamic conquests and displaying heavy phological and grammatical influences from Seljuk Turkish. Rumi actually wrote poems in this almost extinct dialect, albeit using the Persian alphabet, which renders their exact transliteration difficult, as Persian does not indicate all vowels. For example, example Ode 2264 of Rumi's Divan of Shams is written in Cappadocian Greek as follows:
"Where are you my master? The dispenser of benevolence and the moon-faced charmer? I will say in Sarrazin who I am and who you are. I came to you, friend, to be sacrificed for love, and when I saw you, my desires were magnified. If you give me a glass of wine, I'll be happy. and if you abuse me, I'll be happy. My lord, what you desire, I desire and I seek."
Sadly, the rich lyrical and mystical quality of Rumi’s Greek poetry has had little if no influence on Modern Greek literature, presumably because of its remoteness to the genre’s Hellenocentricity. Yet Rumi’s is a quintessentially Hellenistic poetry, dexterously combining the sacred and the profane, in an artful harmonizing kaleidoscope of cultures and traditions. Indeed, had the conquerors been less inflamed with religious zeal and inclined to be more tolerant, Rumi’s poetry, along with morphologically fascinating Cappadocian stands as an example of the level of sophistication that a hybridized Graeco-Persian culture could have achieved. In this, Rumi’s poetry constitutes the swan-song in a long tradition of Graeco-Persian cultural and literary hybridization in the Middle East, stemming back from the time of the Persian Wars.
Even in Turkey, Rumi’s legacy has been a mixed one. While his dervish followers played an important role in the life of the Ottoman Empire, with the foundation of the modern secular republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk removed religion from the sphere of public policy and restricted it exclusively to that of personal morals, behavior, and faith. On 13 December 1925, a law was passed closing all Sufi tekkes. This law dissolved the Orders, prohibited the use of mystical names, titles and costumes pertaining to these titles, impounded their assets, banned their ceremonies and meetings; the law also provided penalties for those who tried to re-establish them. Two years later, in 1927, the Mausoleum of Rumi in Konya was allowed to reopen as a Museum. It was only in the 1950’s, that the Turkish government began allowing the Whirling Dervishes to perform annually in Konya on the anniversary of Rumi's death and then, in order to court the tourist dollar, However, since that time, there has been a resurgence of Sufism throughout Turkey and Rumi’s works are widely studied.
And just so that you don’t think that the legacy of Jelaleddin ‘the Greek’ is relegated to obsure phonological aspects of forgotten Cappadocian, consider the following: On 1 July 2005, the leader of the Sufi followers of Rumi in Greece was sentenced to twenty-five months' imprisonment for defamatory actions related to his “controlling the consciousness” of his followers. At that time, the Orthodox Church stated that it considered the Greek Rumi community a "sect" whose heresies "threaten to corrupt Greece's religious and national identity." Local and international NGOs condemned the conviction, and the Greek Rumi leader was acquitted on appeal in March 2006.
Until next week, some lines from the great lover himself, reminiscent of remarks uttered by the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens: “Come, come, whoever you are./ Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving./ It doesn't matter./ Ours is not a caravan of despair./ Come, even if you have broken your vow/ a thousand times/ Come, yet again, come, come.”


First published in NKEE on 11 February 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008


“... the only thing that gave us security on earth was the certainty that he was there, invulnerable to plague and hurricane . . . invulnerable to time, dedicated to the messianic happiness of thinking for us, knowing that we knew that he would not take any decision for us that did not have our measure, for he had not survived everything because of his inconceivable courage or his infinite prudence but because he was the only one among us who knew the real size of our destiny…” Gabriel García Márquez.

To the question of what Suharto and George Fountas have in common, the answer readily is drawn from the well-spring of comparison. Both were presidents. Both enjoyed tenures in their chosen domains, of exceptional longevity. Both came to personify the institutions that they purported to serve. Finally, the past week has seen both of these august personages’ demise, as if to form the ultimate moral in a cautionary fable about the futility of human endeavour and the inexorable loneliness in the exercise of temporal power.
In his famed novel “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” a “poem to the solitude of power” according to its author, Nobel Prize-winning Gabriel García Márquez, the death of an archetypal and eternal Caribbean dictator is examined through six re-tellings via different perspectives. One of the books most striking aspects is its focus on the god-like status held by the protagonist and the unfathomable awe and respect with which his people regard him. Dictators such as those who formed the inspiration for this remarkable book managed to hold sway over the populations of their respective nations despite internal political divisions because of the mythical aura which surrounded their persons. García Márquez symbolizes this with the discovery of the dictator's corpse in the battered presidential palace; the newly liberated subjects are unable to identify the body of a man whose image has marked their entire lives because they are unable to see him as a human being.
Suharto, who seized power from his predecessor, the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, in 1967, through a mixture of force and political maneuvering against the backdrop of foreign and domestic unrest was a case in point. Over the three decades of his “Orde Baru” or “New Order” regime, Suharto constructed a strong central government along militarist lines. While for most of his three-decade rule, Indonesia experienced significant economic growth and industrialization, his rule, led to political purges and the deaths of millions of suspected Indonesian communists and Chinese-Indonesians, and enaction of legislation outlawing communist parties and ethnic Chinese. In addition, his invasion of East Timor in 1975 was notorious for its brutality with a reported 200,000 dead during the length of Indonesia's occupation. Contrary to common belief, is was not the Asian economic crisis of 1998 that caused his fall from power, nor the opposition from the energised party led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the man he overthrew in order to come to power. In fact, the reason why Suharto fell from power was the same reason that John Howard fell – because having assumed the guise of the nation personified, he found it impossible to realise that he was in fact, mortal and human, not eternal. Suharto stood for reelection for the seventh time in March 1998, justifying it on the grounds of the necessity of his leadership during the economic crisis. As in past years, he was unopposed for reelection. However, this time, his hubris sparked protests and riots throughout the country. Dissension within the ranks of his own Golkar party and military finally weakened Suharto, and he was compelled to stand down from power. Quite simply, to quote Márquez, “... he governed as if he felt predestined to never die ...”
Our own Pericles, synonymous with the Golden Age of Athens that was according to Thucydides, "in name a democracy but, in fact, governed by its first citizen," was mercifully spared such an ignominious patriarchal autumn by being removed from office not by humiliating human hand, but rather, the pestilence of plague.
There is much grandeur in the solitude of one-man rule in the public consciousness, regardless of how oppressive that rule is. Within minutes of Suharto’s death, his persecution of the Chinese, his corruption and his brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor where forgotten by a populace still haunted by the face of their eternal patriarch. Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a week of mourning. All Indonesian government offices and departments were ordered to fly their flags at half-mast for one week, in respect his passing and two metric tons of jasmine flowers and 100 kilograms of red roses were reportedly prepared for the funeral ceremony.
The concept of patriarchal leadership looms large within the modern Greek political consciousness. Until recently, the Greek political sphere was dominated by superannuated politicians belonging to generations of political dynasties. Quite often, especially in Australia, Greeks lament the absence of a “Great Leader” around whom all may unite, in order to be conveyed along the current of his unique vision to a bright, felicitous destiny. The innate tendency of Greeks to attempt to cut down, malign, dethrone and destabilise those of their peers having the temerity to aspire towards assuming that role, is perhaps, the distingishing feature of our own hellenic brnd of Caudillismo. Caudilloes may come and go but we will always despise them, no matter how benign they are, simply for being Caudilloes. There are no jasmine flowers for our former fuhrers.
The legacy of our own patriarch is a case in point. Having enjoyed arguably the longest tenure as president of the Greek Orthodox Communtiy of Melbourne and Victoria, he has become synonymous with that institution, the iconic concept-image of a president of the Greek community. His legacy would include presiding over a period in the GOCMV’s history whereby it was lifted out of the quagmire of liquidation, its asset base was expanded, it managed to avail itself of the ear of the State Government, its festivals became a key showpiece of the Melbourne municipal calendar and it itself became the personification of the Greek community in Melbourne.
Resentment against our own Caudillo swelled as the years past and he still remained at the helm of the GOCMV. No more or less incompetent or capable then past presidents, he also had to face accusations of corruption, notably with regard to the infamous “cheque” provided by the Greek government in order to bail the GOCMV out of its financial woes, only for the new Greek regime to seek its return. This incident sparked off a mass of “who stole the cookie form the cooke jar” hysteria that lasted for years and whose undertones have not quite yet been stamped out. Further allegations involved subverting the electoral process, alienating ‘disloyal’ or ’untrustworthy’ committee members, holdnig the reigns of executive power tighter than ever before and most hubristically of all from a Greek point of view, refusing to relinquish those reigns.
For try as they might, our Caudillo’s desperate detractors could not rid themselves of him. He won election after election, faced with an opposition tarnished with its own record of controversy and mismanagement and who most importantly, lacked vision of its own. Márquez’s own assessment of his dead patrirch could have easily applied to our own situation: “... the regime wasn't being sustained by hope or conformity or even by terror, but by the pure inertia of an ancient and irreparable disillusion, go out into the street and look truth in the face, your excellency, we're on the final curve ...”
When the Caudillo fell just the other week, it was not as victim to the new, renewed, youthful opposition hammering at the doors of the presidential palace. After all, he had successfully survived a most difficult election. Instead, he fell, as in the manner of Suharto, through the perfidy of one of his ‘own,’ who despairing of living constantly in his shadow, defected. Now the Caudillo is gone and the new occupants of the presidential palace face the task of dealing with his legacy. As Márquez put it: “Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.”
Surely it will be a difficult task to preside over a Community that has become so intimately conjoined to the image of a singular man. Despite the vociferousness of their opposition, the new regime is astute to realise, just as in the case of the Indonesian government, that nothing is to be gained by execrating the memory of a former leader. Instead, it has vowed to honour him, work with him and facilitate his continued participation in the Committee. At the same time, it will have to take steps to forge a new identity for itself and the Community, without of course abjuring such an important part of its history. Most importantly, the youthful new regime will have to deal with the ill-concealed fury of the dispossessed gerontocrats, who believe that the governance of the GOCMV is their birthright and who cannot accept the rule of a younger generation over their ‘inheritance.’ The autumn of the patriarch truly then is a turning point for our Community. The new regime is faced with the choice of continuing the hallowed institutions and practices of an increasingly ritualised organization or applying its resources to reach a wider demographic, in order to make themselves relevant to an increasing number of younger Greeks who re estranged from the organised Greek community in general and indifferent to the sense of identity and belonging that it has traditionally attempted to assert and foster. This will necessarily entail a re-assessment of the words ‘Greek’ and ‘Community’ - no easy task, promising no guarantee of success, given that the competing interests of a fragmented, diverse community as that of the post-modern Greek Australians defies easy generalisations and commonalities of purpose. For the time being, take the patriarch’s demise, the man who like no other, became the GOCMV, in one of two ways, brought to you by Márquez: ... “the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory ... announced to the world the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end...” or more probably from the view of the new regime: “Only then did we dare go in without attacking the crumbling walls of reinforced stone, as the more resolute had wished, and without using oxbows to knock the main door off its hinges, as others had proposed, because all that was needed was for someone to give a push and the great armoured doors… gave way. It was like entering the atmosphere of another age, because the air was thinner in the rubble pits of the vast lair of power, and the silence was more ancient, and things were hard to see in the decrepit light.” Hasta el lunes.


First published in NKEE on 4 February 2008